By Christie Huck, Executive Director at City Garden Montessori School
Ten years ago, a group of parents and I helped to found City Garden Montessori, a preK-8 public charter school that would provide the kind of education we wanted for our children in the city but could not find: a school that centered children, personalizing their education and putting them in charge of their learning; a school that was intentionally integrated along many lines of difference, including centrally race, in our deeply segregated region; and, a school that prepared both children and adults as agents of change in the broader community through its commitment to anti-bias, anti-racism (ABAR) training and implementation. With demand from families exceeding space at our school, requests from educators locally and nationally to learn from the lessons of this approach, and a desire to invest more deeply in strengthening our own model, we began to contemplate how we might grow our impact at City Garden.
Fortunately, we learned about The Opportunity Trust at about the same time our senior team and board began asking this question. As a result of our work together, we have a clear and robust plan for the future of City Garden that will grow our impact locally and nationally. In addition to funding our strategic planning process, The Opportunity Trust helped to recruit a matching national donor, secure Bellwether, one of the nation’s leading education strategy firms, and Eric personally engaged in the strategic planning process. Our plan calls for the launch of the nation’s first ABAR Montessori teacher training institute, expanding our footprint to reach nearly 10% of all elementary school-aged children in our city, and working more strategically with others schools interested in our model.
The Opportunity Trust remains a valued partner as we move toward implementation. Again, providing critical seed funding, connecting us to national partners with the expertise and experience our plan calls for that we do yet have on our team, recruiting other funders, and personally engaging as a critical thought partner in the effort. This includes an invitation to apply for funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, which would make City Garden the first school in St. Louis to receive funding from this organization, and an invitation to join a new cohort of innovative schools being brought together by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.
There has never been a greater need to approach this work differently in St. Louis – to move beyond the zero-sum and parochial mentalities that have dominated philanthropy in our region, which discourages collaboration and concentrates resources in those schools and programs with the strongest relationships. Given the history of segregation in our region, that often means underinvestment in diverse leaders and approaches. The Opportunity Trust creates the potential for a new, more equitable path forward that encourages collaboration and prioritizes investment in diverse leadership, including, importantly, in the parents and families who lack access to quality schools that meet the needs of their children.